Navajo wisdom: What is Hózhó?

Yá’át’ééh! My name is Sheyenne and I am a member of the Navajo Nation- a sovereign Native American nation located in the four corners area (New Mexico, Colorado, Utah and Arizona) and the largest Native American reservation in the United States. It’s customary as a Diné (Navajo) person to introduce yourself by stating the four clans which you belong to; My mother is Mud clan (Haashtłishnii) and I am born for my father who is of European descent (Bilagáana).  My maternal grandfather is Red Running into the Water (T’ááchii’nii) and my paternal grandfather is of European descent (Bilagáana). In the Navajo culture, ancestry is traced matrilineally through the mother’s clan line, similar to the way that some people take the last name of their father, therefore I identify as a Haashtłishnii woman. A full list of all the clans, their origin stories and their english meanings can be found here!

Navajo is an Athabaskan language and is considered to be very difficult to learn and speak because it is made up of a lot of sounds not found in English. Our language did not have an alphabet system until one was developed by the Bureau of Indian Affairs (a part of the United States Government) in the 1930’s, following a long period of suppression and government boarding schools punishing children for speaking their native language. Interestingly, the Navajo language was immensely important during World War II when the U.S. government hired Navajo Code Talkers to transmit messages without fear of interception because there were no published Navajo dictionaries and the sentence structure was very different from German and Japanese.

As a Navajo woman, I am overwhelmed by the injustices that my people have faced, as well as the many issues that currently plague indigenous cultures everywhere. I would like to become more vocal within my Native community, particularly in regards to the inappropriate representation of Native Americans. Although many issues threaten the integrity and authenticity of many Native tribes, I will begin my journey by primarily focusing on issues within the art world. I hope to engage and educate people of all cultures so that together, we may contribute to the conversation what we can do to protect and respect traditional Native American values.

That being said, I would like to start by explaining (as best as I can) a significant aspect of the Navajo way of life. Hózhó, in it’s practical application, is a state of being. It refers to the interconnectedness of mankind and nature and the necessary balance and mutual respect between them.

The concept of Beauty within the Diné culture is omnipresent and refers, not to the aesthetic definition of the word, but to the natural order of the world. Meaning that we must live in such a way so that future generations may also benefit from all the wonderful things the world has to offer and this way of living is inherently, beautiful. Walking in Beauty (Hózhó Naasha) is a commitment to go through your life path in a way that respects the natural order.

These values provide structure and guidance for Diné people to live their life in balance and harmony. I believe that these translate very well when applied to the ethical dilemmas many of us face.

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